What is the best season to go hiking in New Zealand?
If we're talking about the weather, summer (December to February) is generally considered to be prime time for hiking in New Zealand. The weather is warm and dry and the days are long, which is great for maximising your time on the trails.
However, New Zealand is gorgeous all year round, and the best time to visit really depends on the scenery you’d like to see — would you rather see blooming wildflowers or snow-topped peaks? You also need to factor in whether you’d prefer to travel outside of the peak season when the trails are quieter and accommodation and tourist activities tend to be a bit cheaper.
Before we get stuck into each season, it’s worth noting that the climate varies across the country, ranging from temperate in the south and subtropical in the far north to alpine in the mountainous regions. There are four distinct seasons in both the North and South Islands, but the weather can change quickly and you’ll likely hear locals joking about there being four seasons in a day. The North Island tends to be a few degrees warmer with slightly higher humidity throughout the year.
Hiking in New Zealand in spring (September to November)
Best for: wildflowers, mild temperatures, waterfalls, longer daylight hours
Spring is one of the best seasons to go hiking in New Zealand. The weather is pleasant (it’s neither too hot nor cold), there’s plenty of sunshine and life is blooming all around – think cute baby lambs and calves frolicking in the paddocks and wildflowers adding splashes of colour to the trails.
That said, the weather can turn quickly with frequent rainfall (don’t forget your waterproof jacket). The mornings and evenings can also be quite crisp, so you’ll need a warm fleece and a beanie for early starts or drinks around the fire. Another great thing about spring is the waterfalls – all the snowmelt and showers make New Zealand's tumbling cascades even more impressive.
Hiking in New Zealand in summer (December to February)
Best for: long daylight hours, warm weather, accessibility
Summer offers the most stable weather with warm, sunny and fairly dry conditions. The days are long with daylight until 9 pm in December, which means you can explore well into the evening. Average highs in summer range from 20-30ºC (68-86ºF) depending on where you are, and rainfall is at its lowest which means the ground is nice and dry.
Summer is the peak season for tourists and locals alike (many Kiwis go on camping trips during the festive break), so if you’re planning a summer trip that’s not part of an organised tour, it’s best to plan ahead as accommodation and popular activities often get booked out months in advance. If you don't mind the Christmas rush, it's a great time of year to immerse yourself in the great outdoors, meet friendly locals and spend balmy summer evenings enjoying a glass of Sauvignon Blanc.
Hiking in New Zealand in autumn (March to May)
Best for: autumn foliage, mild weather, smaller crowds
Autumn is easily one of the most picturesque seasons to go hiking with vibrant autumn foliage making the landscapes even more enchanting. The weather is relatively mild and steady with clear skies and lots of sunshine, although the evenings and mornings start to feel crisp as the season progresses so you'll need a warm fleece or jacket.
The days start to wind down earlier in April when the clocks go back, so you may need to plan your hikes more thoroughly to ensure you're back before dusk. With the Christmas period and summer holidays well and truly over, autumn is the perfect time to hit up some of the most popular trails like Roy's Peak Track. The snow usually arrives in the mountainous regions in May, while lower ground may see the occasional morning frost.
Hiking in New Zealand in winter (June to August)
Best for: magical winter scenery, winter sports
New Zealand's landscapes are stunning, but the wow factor turns up a notch when the peaks are dusted with snow – especially on a crisp winter's day when the sky is clear. Daytime highs on the North Island usually linger between a mild 10-16°C (50-61ºF), but it's chillier on the South Island with more frost, snow and cooler temperatures of 7-12 °C (45-54ºF).
Winter is considered to be the low season in New Zealand – unless you're doing winter sports – and some trails close so you may struggle to book an organised hiking trip. That doesn't mean hiking's off the cards, but you'll need to ensure you're rugged up and have the right gear, and always check the weather forecast before you set off.
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